Renewed effort underway to allow undocumented farm workers to stay in the US

FRESNO, California -- Under a California senator's proposed bill, workers would have to stay in agriculture for at least three years, then after five years could apply for citizenship.

Senator Dianne Feinstein held a phone conference to explain her legislation.

"Farm workers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years can earn what we call a blue card that shields them from deportation," she said.

United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriquez joined the senator in promoting the bill.

"The agriculture workers program act recognizes that the people who feed our nation should be given the chance to be here legally," he said.

Agricultural groups in the Central Valley, which depends on migrant labor, are in favor of the general direction of the legislation.

"I support her concepts, absolutely important, but we've got to include a guest worker program in there and that's not included," said Manuel Cunha, Nisei Farmers League.

"A blue card would be at least the start of the conversation trying to figure out something what these employees can do to legally work in agriculture," said Ryan Jacobsen with the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

Growers know with the current anti-immigrant mood in Washington, there is little chance of any immigration relief. With the crackdown at the border keeping people from coming across, there won't be anyone to pick once the crops are ready for harvest.

"As early as it is in the season, it's arguably shaping up to be the tightest labor market we've been in at least a decade. Things are very, very tight this early and with peak season yet to come, still two or three months away, very concerning where we are right now," said Jacobsen.

Senator Feinstein's bill is being backed by a group of Democrats -- the question is will it attract any Republican support?

"We've been at it for 30 years and immigration has been used as a political football for who's ever running for president, and it's got to stop," said Cunha.

The Farm Bureau estimates 70 percent of the farm workers in the Central Valley are undocumented and would benefit from Feinstein's bill.

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